Beer, at its most basic, is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from water and cereal grains. However there are numerous variations on this theme and countless permutations of each variation.

The mineral makeup of water, beer's principal constituent, varies from place to place. This alone means that there is significant regional variation even between beers made with the same recipe.

Hops and barley, the basics of beer

It is estimated that beer is the third most widely consumed drink in the world, after water and tea, but it is certainly the world's most popular alcoholic beverage. This is not surprising given that beer is much simpler to make than wine or distilled beverages.

Moreover, grape vines are not only harder to manage than cereal crops, they require several years to mature to fruit-bearing age and the fruit needs to be picked before they are ready for fermentation. Cereal crops, on the other hand, are relatively simple to harvest and can be easily stored as required.


Beer production dates back to at least 8000 BC, which coincides with the beginning of agriculture, when humans began moving away from a nomadic existence to settle down in permanent communities. Staying in one place provided a reliable, harvestable supply of grain, but also the time and stability to discover and develop the art of fermentation.

Some of the oldest written texts in existence discuss the intricacies of brewing and beer storage. Beer production seems to be a human endeavor that is almost as ancient as agriculture and writing.

People were making beer for thousands of years before they had any real understanding of the vital role of yeast in the fermentation process – beers were left to begin their fermentation naturally, with ambient yeasts. It was only after this single-cell organism was scientifically recognized in the 17th Century that people learned to control and cultivate it – an advance that has helped brewers as well as winemakers and bakers.


The flowers of the hop vine (Humulus lupulus), commonly known as "hops" are the most common fourth ingredient. These herbaceous vines (a close relative of Cannabis sativa) has been cultivated for many centuries, almost exclusively for beer production.

Hops perform two key functions in beer production: flavoring and preserving. The hop flower contains natural alpha acids with stabilizing and mild antibiotic properties and also beta acids that are responsible for the trademark "hoppy" bitterness. Hops constitute a key differentiating factor between beer styles.

Ale versus lager

Beer can be broadly divided into two basic categories: ales and lagers. The key difference between these two is that ales use top-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), while lagers use bottom-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces pastorianus).

Top-fermenting yeasts operate at a temperature of roughly 70F (21C) and form a foam on top of the fermenting liquid. Bottom-fermenting yeasts perform at the much cooler temperature of around 50F (10C).

The majority of beer produced in the world today is lager. The name lager is ultimately derived from the German verb lagern ("to store") referring to the long-term storage of beer in cool locations such as deep cellars or caves. Lagers are typically lighter in color and flavor than ales, and are best served chilled.

Ales are fruitier and more aromatically pronounced than lagers. The precise aromas and flavors are dictated by the quantity and variety of hops added, the type of cereal and the quantity of malted cereals (malt) used.

Whether or not the malt or grains are roasted is also an important factor. Stout and porter beers gain their distinctive dark color and tangy flavor from roasted barley or roasted malt.

Food matches for beer include:

  • Moules-frites (mussels with fries)
  • Angus beef hamburger
  • Beer-battered fish & chips
Production by region Expand/collapse

Most Popular Beer

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Avg Price
Kingfisher Strong Lager Beer, India India 99th $4
Castlemaine XXXX Gold Lager Beer, Queensland, Australia Queensland 261st $4
Batemans Triple XB XXXB Pale Ale Beer, Lincolnshire, England England 275th $5
Brewmeister 'Snake Venom' Fortified Beer, Scotland Scotland 683rd $216
Haywards 5000 Super Strong Beer, India India 871st $12
Kingfisher Ultra Lager Beer, India India 959th $1
Heineken Lager Beer Rest of World 1,201st 71 $3
Birra Moretti Premium Lager Beer, Italy Italy 1,700th 89 $4
Samuel Adams Utopias Beer, Massachusetts, USA Massachusetts 1,928th 98 $260
Fuller's Vintage Ale Beer, England England 1,968th $18
Yebisu Premium Beer, Japan Japan 2,058th 78 $4
Guinness Draught Beer Rest of World 2,656th 93 $4
Corona Extra Lager Beer, Mexico Mexico 3,206th $3
Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout Beer, Illinois, USA Illinois 3,226th 94 $21
Desperados Tequila Flavoured Beer, France France 3,292nd 61 $4
Kingfisher Premium Lager Beer, India India 3,567th $3
Hoegaarden White Beer, Belgium Belgium 3,573rd 90 $4
Southern Tier 'Concord Grape Gose' Imperial Sour Ale Beer, New York, USA New York 3,991st $8
Sweet Touch Lychee Fruit Beer, Taiwan Rest of World 4,135th $7
Old Monk 10000 Super Beer, India India 4,337th $4
Thomas Hardy's Ale Beer, UK UK 4,438th $18
Castlemaine XXXX Bitter Ale Beer, Queensland, Australia Queensland 4,464th $4
San Miguel Brewery Pale Pilsen Beer, Philippines Philippines 4,507th $4
Carling Black Label Lager Beer Rest of World 4,540th $3
San Miguel Brewery Red Horse Extra Strong Beer, Philippines Philippines 4,699th 68 $4
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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